When it comes to the failure of the Democratic gun control package in the U.S. Senate earlier this week, "[t]he media [have been] amplifying... with less subtlety" President Obama's gripes about the power of the NRA and a minority in the Senate supposedly scuttling the will of the American people on background checks, the Wall Street Journal editorial board noted today. But the truth of the matter, the board explained, is that Democrats have only themselves, and more specifically President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, to blame.
The Journal editorial board explained how "[t]he White House demanded, and Mr. Reid agreed, that Congress should try to pass the [Manchin-Toomey background check] amendment without" the benefit of 30 hours of floor debate which "would have meant inspecting the details" of the legislation and "opened up the bill to pro-gun amendments that were likely to pass." A simple majority was needed for such a debate, the Journal notes, a threshold they could have cleared as Reid had 54 votes for his cloture motion. So why did Reid not go that route? Because it would "have boxed Mr. Reid into the embarrassing spectacle of having to later scotch a final bill because it also contained provisions that the White House loathes," the Journal argued, adding (emphases mine):
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So Mr. Reid moved under "unanimous consent" to allow nine amendments, each with a 60-vote threshold.
The White House was right to worry. An amendment from John Cornyn of Texas that would have required all states to recognize every other state's concealed-carry permits earned 57 votes, 13 Democrats among them. The nearby table has the list. On Thursday, Wyoming's John Barrasso offered an amendment to protect gun ownership privacy that passed 67-30.
The media are attributing the demise of Manchin-Toomey to the clout of rural states, as if those voters don't count; or claiming it would have passed under a secret ballot, as if democratic accountability is bad. Our guess is the amendment would have received fewer votes in a secret ballot. Many red-state Democrats wanted to avoid handing Mr. Obama a larger defeat on a bill that was about to fail anyway, but more might have parted company once the specifics were scrutinized.
Manchin-Toomey was rushed together on a political timetable, and a thorough scrub would have revealed that its finer legal points aren't as modest as liberals claim. Tellingly, the White House blew up earlier negotiations with Tom Coburn on background checks. The Oklahoma Republican favored more and better checks across secondary firearms markets like gun shows and online, but liberals insisted that federally licensed dealers had to keep records.
In other words, keeping guns away from dangerous or unstable people was less important than defeating the NRA. The Senate GOP offered an alternative background-checks amendment that failed 52-48. Nine Democrats were in favor, but their colleagues voted en masse to block it from moving forward. How's that for incoherent?
Mr. Obama is technically right that Manchin-Toomey would not create a federal firearms registry. Then again, its most clamorous supporters are also contemptuous of the Second Amendment, and they are explicitly hoping for a fifth Justice to overturn the Supreme Court's landmark gun-rights rulings. Manchin-Toomey opponents can be forgiven for worrying that gun controllers will attempt to build a registry from whatever records they get.
Meanwhile, political reporters are ignoring the disintegration of Mr. Obama's overall gun agenda. Restricting large capacity magazines went down 46-54, with 10 Democrats breaking with the President. Banning certain types of semiautomatic rifles failed 40-60 with 15 Democrats opposed. Those 15 or so Democrats, along with numerous Republicans, are the true mainstream on guns in America: open to reasonable compromises as long as they safeguard individual rights.
People who cling to their guns, or merely to the Constitution, aren't part of the coalition that Mr. Obama believes re-elected him, and his mistake was thinking they would simply dissolve into history's rearview mirror in his new progressive era. Mr. Obama was routed this week because he tried to govern from the left and thus played into the hands of the NRA. If the Newtown families want someone to blame, they can start with the President.
Chart posted above via the Wall Street Journal.